When the initial renderings of All Star Velocean were released, the buzz about her was incredible.
“Is it really going to look like that?”
“That can’t be real!”
Velocean arrived to Indonesia in April of 2020, just a few weeks after the world had shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the construction was completed, everyone was wowed to see that she turned out just like the renderings, if not better. With so much buzz and Indonesia’s lengthy closure period, the demand for Velocean has her booked out to nearly 2025.
Fortunately, I was able to join a recent trip to Raja Ampat. The diving in Raja Ampat is some of the best in the world and a bucket list trip for most divers. Velocean gives that much more of a reason to plan your next trip there. The experience aboard All Star’s newest Indonesia liveaboard delivers an out of this world experience on all fronts.
After some lengthy travels I had arrived into the tiny airport of Sorong. All Star offers complimentary transfers from the airport and local hotels to guests joining Velocean. Yaps, one of the dive guides, greeted us and helped us load our gear into cars to transfer to the marina. Once we arrived there we hopped on the tenders and were whisked off to board Velocean.
I think everyone had the same excitement as we approached her. Velocean was stunning and the largest liveaboard in the Sorong harbor. In fact, at 171 ft. she is one of the largest liveaboards in the world. The vessel accommodates just 18 guests in 10 private cabins. Once onboard, we were greeted by all of the crew and given a quick tour. The crew left the dive gear on the dive deck and delivered everyone’s personal belongings to their cabin. During the tour, I checked out the three different cabin types and quickly realized that every cabin had the same things in common – ultra spacious, high end finishes and the nicest amenities of any liveaboard I’ve ever been on.
My cabin for the week was one of the Signature Single Suites. The single suites are perfect for solo travels not looking to pay a hefty single supplement. The cabin is furnished with a full bed, a small desk, two closets, storage under the bed and two large windows to take in the amazing views of Raja Ampat. When All Star Velocean was under construction, every detail was thought through like universal outlets, TVs in the cabins with a video library and a live feed of the boat’s GPS.
Any underwater photographers have to book a trip aboard Velocean. It is the most photographer friendly liveaboard in the world. Both the platinum and single suites are furnished with desks where photographers can edit photos post-dive. For those who don’t want to retreat to their cabins, the salon has camera table stations all along the windows where you can work on and charge all your devices. On the dive deck is a camera rinse tank, two camera tables and an air hose to dry off your equipment post-dive.
The Diving in Raja Ampat
All the diving in Indonesia is done from tenders. These aren’t your standard inflatables though. Each tender has a tank rank down the middle and ample space for each dive group, their gear and camera equipment. Before every dive a thorough briefing is given explaining the conditions, topography of the site, and what you’ll have a chance to see. After that it’s time to go diving! Divers are split up into four groups which yields groups of 4-5 divers per guide. This allows the guides to provide more personal attention and pair groups by both experience level and dive preferences. Be sure to chat with your guide at the beginning of the week and let them know of anything special you’re hoping to see. They will do their best to point things out. The guides have an amazing eye to spot the tiniest of macro and know where to go to spot things both big and small.
On this trip we focused on the best of Raja Ampat & Misool. Located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, Raja Ampat is on nearly every diver’s bucket list for good reason. You will struggle to find a part of the world with greater biodiversity or biomass. Terms like biodiversity and biomass are often thrown around, but Raja Ampat can back up the claims. Cape Kri dive site holds the world record for most species of fish identified on a single dive.
Another top dives from the trip included Mayhem, which earned its name. At times it was tough to focus or let alone find your dive buddy that may have been no more than 10 feet away due the wall of fish passing by. Schools of sardines and fusiliers were darting around in a synchronized dance while giant trevally, jacks and groups tried to pick them off. As I approached a coral arch to film the schools of fish, they parted and a green turtle appeared.
Throughout the week we kept an eye out for manta rays. Some of the divers had made the trip with the primary focus of seeing mantas. While they are frequently spotted in Raja, Komodo does tend to provide the best encounters with oceanic mantas. Occasionally a black manta makes an appearance at Arborek Jetty, while we didn’t see him there it was still a spectacular dive with schools of sweetlips, wobbegong sharks and the endemic Raja epaulette or walking shark. By day 6 we were all eager to see mantas but a dive to Manta Ridge was no luck. Come day 7 we made another attempt and the high current upon splashing in left us hopeful. When we got down to the ridge and hooked in, there were six mantas all dancing overhead including a black manta. It was a dive to remember, hearing your fellow dive buddies screaming through their regulator with excitement.
In addition to all the megafauna, Raja Ampat has amazing macro for those that love the little stuff. The dive guides are skilled at finding the most minuscule critters like pygmy seahorses which are around a half inch in length. We also got to see blue ringed octopus, mimic octopus, pygmy cuttlefish, and a variety of nudibranchs.
Velocean offers nearly a dozen itineraries from the typical to the off the beaten path. Raja Ampat is on every divers bucket list, but we also visit other regions of Indonesia like Komodo National Park, Wakatobi, Ambon-Koon Island, Banda Sea and the Forgotten Islands and Halmahera. Velocean’s speed and size allows for more travel and comfort, plus the ability to reach dive sites across a greater area on a single trip.
Surface Interval – Exploring Raja Ampat’s Shore Excursions
With four dives per day your schedule stays quite busy, but there is still time to enjoy some of the topside splendor of West Papua. The standard schedule consisted of 2 dives in the morning, a post-lunch dive and then a break until the night dive. Excursions included hikes up to Love Lagoon and Piaynemo Lookout. Another day was spent at a beautiful white sand beach, wading in the water with juvenile blacktip sharks. One of the top excursion highlights was a snorkeling with the stingless jellyfish in Misool. This was an early morning trek and the terrain is quite rugged, but when you hop in it’s a breathtaking sight. Thousands of jellyfish are bobbing in the lake. Snorkelers and swimmers must be cautious when swimming in the lake as humans are the greatest threat to these delicate creatures. It presents an amazing photo-op with the morning rays of light shining through the water. Drones are welcome in Indonesia too and can produce some fun shots. Raja Ampat has a plethora of sites to see making a return trip a must.
5-Star Service aboard Velocean Liveaboard
When it comes to the service and hospitality on Velocean, I don’t know where to begin. From the moment I stepped onboard the crew made it feel like home. We were welcomed aboard with a fresh fruit juice, our luggage taken to our cabin or dive station, and a full breakfast was waiting for us in the salon. Jokowi and Novi are part of the interior-dining team and after day one they would have your coffee waiting for you, exactly the way you requested. Crew member Irod would have fresh juices or hot teas mixed up after every dive and was behind the bar mixing drinks when the diving was done.
At night, the crew would host themed nights. One night the crew hosted an acoustic night on the sundeck with the moon and stars shining above; two crew on guitar and one on the box drum playing everything from Bob Marley to Queen.
Another night they setup the karaoke machine. We had a great group onboard and it didn’t take long before everyone was singing along to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” or Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”. Was a fun and hilarious way to end the day.
The trip culminated with a beach bbq on a small sandbar island where the crew put together an amazing party. The last full day onboard included two morning dives, giving everyone enough time to decompress and dry their gear out before flying out the next day. After the last dive, the crew quickly went to work washing everyone’s gear for them and setting it out to dry. After that they began the elaborate setup for the beach bbq. This included tables, chairs, lighting, tiki torches and décor. The chefs were hard at work preparing a delicious spread of grilled lobster, chicken, fish, salads, and desserts. Irod was back behind the bar with ice cold Bintang, the local beer, or to mix up a cocktail. As we sat down to dinner and the sun was setting, we all sat around recapping the amazing trip we just had and how we need to start planning the return.